Universal Credit

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:36 pm on 17th October 2018.

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Photo of Priti Patel Priti Patel Conservative, Witham 2:36 pm, 17th October 2018

I want to focus on the principles behind UC and why it has been brought in, as that is the key to understanding how we can ensure UC works as it was supposed to. Present changes and issues with the roll-out and the detail of implementation are of course important, but they should not take attention away from the core principles of UC and how it transforms lives.

I was here in the Chamber in March 2011 when my right hon. Friend Mr Duncan Smith introduced the Welfare Reform Bill in one of the most passionate speeches on addressing poverty that this Chamber has heard. He said at the very beginning of his speech that day that the reform of welfare was needed because, despite the economic growth and job creation between 1992 and 2008, there was a group of working-age people that was effectively left behind.

I remember the situation back in 2010 when the coalition Government were formed: there were too many households who were not being supported into employment; there were complexities with the legacy benefits; there were cliff edges faced when people left benefits and went into employment; and there were cases of intergenerational poverty in this country, with children being raised in households where two or three generations were affected by periods of worklessness. And, of course, we had to do more to change that, and my right hon. Friend was right at that time to pursue a holistic approach to tackling poverty and helping people get back into work. UC was a response to a system where at the peak of the Labour boom there were 3 million people on out-of-work benefits, 1 million of whom did not work a day for many years under a Labour Government because they were caught in a welfare trap and written off. A great many were on incapacity benefit as well, and things had to change.

The principles of UC are clear. It is intended to simplify the benefits system, reduce complexity and support more people into employment and into higher paid employment. UC was needed to help get people work-ready, and transitioning people on to UC helps understand and identify the underlying financial difficulties they face.

We have heard from Caroline Flint about issues with withdrawal rates and taper changes and what happened in 2015 and 2016. I was in the Department at the time, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chingford and Woodford Green left the Government because of what happened when we fought back and presented the Treasury with distributional analysis showing the impact the cuts would have on households and individuals.

It is important that we now get this change right. I do not believe in scrapping UC at all, but we need the modifications to deliver the life-changing support and the opportunities that the benefit was designed to provide. Yes, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has gone through the process of testing, learning and rectifying the problems, but we must now go back and invest in the right way to modify the changes that happened. We must bring back the choice; Governments have choices and this Government now have the chance to support the principle of making work pay and support independence and dignity in work.